In this episode of As In Heaven, hosts Jim Davis and Justin Holcomb welcome Christina Edmondson, who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to bear as she examines some well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful tropes and perspectives regarding black people in America. Edmondson further shows us the ways in which white supremacy deeply harms the white supremacist. The group discusses:
- An introduction to Christina Edmondson (0:38)
- Colorblindness (3:08)
- Gnosticism and melanin (8:04)
- All Lives Matter (11:08)
- Black fatherlessness (15:39)
- A sin issue, not a skin issue (23:39)
- The game plan of sin (28:36)
- Just preaching the gospel (30:05)
- Our embodied confession (35:55)
- Black-on-black crime (37:32)
- Nine black people killed by white officers (41:49)
- Using POC voices against POC who are hurting (48:22)
- Responding to propaganda (50:42)
- Helpful ways to engage the race conversation (52:49)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of race.
1. How have you seen or believed in a type of colorblindness? Why is “colorblindness” problematic for Christians to believe?
2. What do you hear when someone says “all lives matter”? How does a statement like “all lives matter”—while being true—become unhelpful when discussing matters of injustice?
3. How does an argument defeater, such as pointing to “fatherlessness” or “black-on-black crime,” actually point toward historical events and unjust social structures?
4. What are ways that saying “just preach the gospel,” instead of speaking against injustice, actually fails to see full gospel implications? How does the gospel shape our interactions with society and social structures?
5. Pray that the Lord would search us and know our hearts. Pray that the Lord will move us to repentance in the areas he reveals.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Christina Edmondson: A part of loving people is learning about who they are. Learning about the story of black people’s experience in the United States would lead most people to a deeper place of empathy and understanding. There is a story. I think love makes us pursue the story instead of pursuing the pathology.
Matt Kenyon: You’re listening to As In Heaven, a Christian conversation on race and justice. In this episode, Dr. Christina Edmondson brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to bear as she examined some well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful tropes and perspectives regarding black people in America.
Christina helps us to think more critically and empathetically about our motives and our words and frankly her love for the person and work of Jesus was evident in every response. Jim Davis is your host. Justin Holcomb is the guest co-host on this episode. Mike Graham and Matt Kenyon are the producers. Without further ado, please enjoy this conversation with Christina Edmondson.
Jim Davis: All right. Well, welcome to As In Heaven season two. My name is Jim Davis. I’m joined by my co-host, Dr. Justin Holcomb. We have the privilege of being joined by Dr. Christina Edmondson. You have just relocated to Nashville, so you’ve retired from Calvin College in your capacity as their dean of Intercultural Student Development, but you still teach for Calvin College. You write in a number of places. You have a PhD from Tennessee State University and your podcast.
You are one of the co-hosts of Truth’s Table Podcast. You relocated to Nashville because your husband, Micah, is a part of planting a church out of Christ Presbyterian Church there. Christina, thank you so much for joining us.
Christina Edmondson: Yes. Thank you for having me. Yeah.
Justin Holcomb: The purpose of this podcast, the vision for this podcast is to explore a number of common perspectives that are unhelpful. We’re going to assume that the people who say or ask these questions that we’re going to be pondering are well-meaning. We’re going to assume the best of their well-meaning that they’re trying to process, the conversation about racial justice that’s happening nationally.
There are some phrases that many people hear in regular conversation. We thought it would be helpful not just to gloss over them. We don’t want to just dismiss them, but engage them, but engage them with as much generosity as possible to help people as they’re listening through this process, those statements. Many statements might be phrases that people have said themselves or have heard commonly around a dinner table from friends or family. That’s the goal, is exploring common unhelpful perspectives regarding racial justice. I’m going to dive in with the first one that is very common.
That is the idea that I’m basically colorblind or the other way of saying this practically is I don’t see color. What is colorblindness? Why is that an unhelpful perspective regarding racial justice?
Christina Edmondson: Colorblindness, I think one way to think about it is that different social errors allow for the creation of new rhetoric or new responses. I think of the language of colorblindness would be typically associate between 1870s, ’80s on up until now as being responsive rhetoric to an era in which there was blatant and overt explicit racist language.
The shift from a more blatant kind of vitriolic keep those people away and keep them out of my neighborhood like they can’t go to our church or our school to a, oh my gosh, these civil rights leaders have been killed. We post this post 1960s. I don’t want to be that. I don’t want to be the white person with the picket sign yelling slurs at the black kid going into the school. That’s not who we want to be.
Tolerance then looked like the very best I can do for my neighbor of color is to say I don’t really see that part of who you are. I’m colorblind. I think of color blindness as a response to an era where we had much more overt explicit vitriolic expressions and kind of overt behavior of racial segregation.
Here we are with this term that we’ve been given. You may have a lot of, and I’m going to speak frankly a lot of maybe white people who were raised by white parents and well-meaning post-1960s who believe that being a racist or being associated with racism is a terrible thing. They may not fully understand the nuances of sociological or even theological layers and racism to be like I don’t want to be that which is a good thing. We should not want to be that.
They raise their children with language like this. We don’t see color in this house. We treat everybody the same in this house, red, yellow, black and white. They’re all precious in his sight. They may even find themselves saying statements like this. I don’t care if you’re purple or polka dot or striped or whatever you are. This is an attempt to overcompensate for an era of more blatant vitriolic racism.
With that being said, one of the problems with color blindness is one that it’s not true. We know from the research and we can even know if we just ask the Lord examine my heart, show me my biases. The Lord is faithful to show us who we are. That’s actually not true. We do judge people by the schemas that we have been given, the stereotypes that we have been given, the narratives that we have been given implicitly and explicitly. The data of disparity shows us that we’re not colorblind even if we believe that’s the most well-meaning thing that we can muster up.
Another reason why it’s not helpful is because our ethnic identity speaks to the fullness and the expanse of reach of the gospel itself. This is why particularly problematic for Christians to appeal to colorblind. That’s the best level of tolerance that they can muster up to deal with people of color because Jesus Christ is not a tribal deity. He died for people of every tribe, nation, and tongue.
When we say the very best I can give you is to act like part of you doesn’t exist in order for me to tolerate you. Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus, when I am fully glorified, I will still be a person of African descent that is fully glorified. It will be to the glory of God that in his immense love, he pulls together a people from every tribe, nation, and tongue.
That’s a part of the crown of Christ. We don’t want to dismiss the beauty of that because it speaks to the magnificent glory and the reach of the gospel itself. We don’t want to do that. We don’t want to tell people in order for me to love you, I’ve got to pretend that a part of you doesn’t exist. Can you imagine a husband saying that to their wife, like, “I just pretend I don’t see your face.”
The roots of it, I believe, the intention of it is to say, “Okay. I’m going to try to pursue tolerance here.” But the call is not tolerance. It’s a call to respect. I would say for the Christian, it’s love and affirming the intrinsic dignity that’s a part of our core humanity. That’s why I would say it’s unhelpful.
Justin Holcomb: When you said you went back to the response of rhetoric to the 1970s, for me a light bulb went off because I’m thinking through my parents were born in ’49, and they were in their 20s. My parents haven’t said that phrase, but my parents are 70. That generation might be the group that would use that phrase intending what was meant decades ago.
The best case scenario is well-intentioned, responsive rhetoric that’s lagging with insight that needs to be updated that this conversation now isn’t the same as the one in the 1960s and ’70s. That for me just pinged. I mean the response of [inaudible 00:08:51] you gave me language to help interpret that phrase.
What you were describing at the end to give it a theological term is gnosticism which is that’s a heresy to treat… As Christians, we believe that God made the soul and the body in both matter as C.S. Lewis put it God likes matter, he made it. He made bodies with skin color and pigment and melatonin… not melatonin, the other thing, melanin. Melatonin. It matters into the color blindness also hints to not just the 1970s kind of language history, but a theological commitment or a theological disposition that’s more gnostic than Christian wonderfully helpful.
Christina Edmondson: Jesus is the son of God. Jesus is also the son of David. Jesus comes through a lineage of a people, an ethnic people who look like they are members of a particular cultural group that have married and had children. Currently, Jesus is fully embodied in that cultural identity, glorified and interceding for the church right now.
I just think it’s just important for us to grapple with the intentionality of that image, of that picture and that love is so much further than tolerances which really is just tolerance statement.
Justin Holcomb: What you just said I could not agree with more, but we all know that when you say that we’re going to have a resurrected body, we’re not just a disembodied soul, people who read the Bible on a regular basis look at you weird like I’m going to have a body because their view of what’s next is not having a body. We can’t dive into all of what you just said about that one particular point, but that is 100% completely orthodox.
Is it Biblical? Absolutely. Some people who are orthodox Christians will actually flinch at that picture of the new heavens and new earth, but wonderfully important. Thank you.
Jim Davis: Let’s shift to another phrase. This one is more recent probably than the first one, the phrase all lives matter, obviously, as a response to Black Lives Matter. How would you see this phrase as unhelpful?
Christina Edmondson: I think it’s[inaudible 00:11:27] a number of reasons. I think people say it for different reasons. I think there’s a group that says it because they believe that when people are saying black lives matter, they’re saying that to the exclusion of other lives. To address that particular group who believe that people are saying only think about black people’s lives, well, they’re not. That’s not a very eloquent or academic answer, but it’s just true. They’re not.
They’re saying that until black lives matter, until immigrant lives matter, until the disabled lives matter, then we can actually say that we believe that all lives matter. There’s a significant portion of the puzzle that is missing. They’re not saying that only black lives matter, they’re saying that black lives matter. I would ask people who are stuck on the belief that this is to the exclusion of someone else to listen, to lean in more and to listen more charitably to the actual discourse.
Then, I would also say to the folks who believe that disparity doesn’t exist or that disparities that do exist or a consequence of an inherent deficiency or a cultural deficiency of a group of people to those people, I would say, that that belief system that they have been given, it’s in the water. You don’t have to work very hard to be able to experience implicit and explicit racialized and racist rhetoric. We’ve been handed this. We’ve been handed these belief systems.
What I would say to them is that black people are situated in a historical and cultural context and a part of loving people is learning about who they are and so learning about the story of black people’s experience in the United States for the most part, I think, leads many people even those who would have something to give up would lead most people to a deeper place of empathy and understanding. There really is almost like a multiverse of historical narrative in the country.
Some people really just don’t… We have very different educational processes as it relates to race and understanding. There are people who really are disconnected from the historical narrative, the historical experience of black Americans specifically, but I would argue amongst many groups of people, of indigenous people, of Asian people. There really is a multiverse of history classes, so to speak. When people say that statement, what they reveal to me is that there is some truth about the historical narrative that has been withheld from them.
Now, we can also have what we call in psychology world kind of a strategic ignorance which means we don’t want to know what we don’t want to know. We don’t want to lean in to understand things that are going to deeply shift our paradigm that are going to challenge the belief systems that we have been given. They’re going to cause us to self-examine.
We can think about this as it relates to a number of sins. We just don’t want to know if we don’t want to get that sent up. I do think there is a strategic ignorance element that is at play as well for some people, but ultimately, I do think it is our responsibility to learn deeply about each other that is a part of loving people. Cannot love people apart from learning about who they are.
That I think produces the level of insight and appreciation that allows us to realize statements like all lives matter really are emotionally tone deaf and unempathetic and unkind to the actual true disparities and injustices that people experience in the United States.
Jim Davis: Well, if there’s one theme that is clearly developing over the course of the season of the podcast, it’s listening and understanding. I feel like in every episode, we hit on that, that it must be important if it’s unintentionally coming up every single episode. All right. Here’s another phrase that gets brought up in the conversation, black fatherlessness. What is behind this particular question? What things would you say when people bring this up in the conversation?
Christina Edmondson: With that being said, I think there are a number of social, political, and religious leaders or influencers who that really is kind of a go-to. It’s not that people just wake up with an epiphany of like, “I think the problem is father…” People have been handed that. They have been given that in a box.
When I hear people lift that up, oftentimes, I can kind of backtrack to the sources of that information. The question becomes is there an issue, is there a disparity related to marriage in the African-American community and by African-Americans specifically talking about the descendants of the TransAtlantic slave trade in the United States of African descent, is there a disparity of higher divorce rates, et cetera in comparison to white groups? Yes, there is a difference.
The question then becomes how do you make sense out of that. How we make sense out of data reveals the implicit biases that we already have. When I hear a statistic like that, I think to myself since I actually believe that there are not tears of humanity, that there’s not like one group that’s superior to another group, so that causes me to ask the question of how did this come to be? What has made this so?
Now, there are other people who hear disparity, and what they might be inclined to say is, “What’s up with those people?” If you’re inclined to say what created this, that’s a different disposition in which to engage the data. Then, I start to think about, “Okay. Well, if I start controlling for certain variables, this is a social science [inaudible 00:17:37], if I start controlling for certain variables, do I see comparable rates in other communities? Oh, I do because I start to see that if you start to increase unemployment in white middle-class communities, well you’re going to get an uptick in things like divorce.”
When we have a lack of social and economic opportunity, this is across all ethnic and racial groups, we see an increase in divorce. We see an increase in marriage. There is clearly a correlation between a sense of economic vitality and ability and progress in the way in which people engage committed long-term relationships.
That’s just one thing I would just throw out there, and we can look throughout the last 150 years of American history. I can look at what we’re classifying as our normative group kind of white middle class people. I can look through history and think about where we’ve had significant economic crises and how it’s impacted the white family.
If I go to the Great Depression, I’m going to see a significant uptick in the departure of husbands from homes leaving wives because of lack of economic opportunity. If I go to the last 10, 15 years of the housing market crash, we saw an uptick in divorce in white families.
When I start looking at it, I’m thinking, “Oh, economic opportunity is critical.” It’s critical for families. If I look at the last 60 years and I think about predominantly African-American cities and communities which have lost industrial kind of jobs that they’ve lost manufacturing jobs have moved out of those cities, have moved out of Detroit, well the car industry built the African-American middle class community in cities like Detroit.
If you pull the economic opportunity out, well what do you get? This would not be different for any other group of people. I would say that the way that we approach the data is revealing, it’s revealing about our own biases. I expect for economic strain to wreak havoc on white middle-class families in the same way that it wreaks havoc on African-American.
By the way, that’s not the only piece of the puzzle that I could bring up, but I just wanted to lay that out there just to have maybe even white listeners think about the impact of economic crises, hardship, the inability for men to find jobs or to work, how much that shapes relational tension within their families, within their identities and think about that for other people who they deem to be just as much as a person as themselves.
Jim Davis: That makes a ton of sense. There’s an analysis. Then, there’s a solution. Sometimes, people we disagree with have the right analysis but the wrong solution.
Christina Edmondson: Yeah. How do we get to this data that we find ourselves? How do we get to these numbers to begin with? What is the role in the late 1960s of the Vietnam war, the higher prevalence of men of color being sent overseas, then, majority culture white men, for example? What was the impact of mass incarceration in the African-American community or the intentional dynamics of exposure to drugs infiltration within predominantly African-American urban community in context?
How does that impact the family? How does that impact the community? I think it’s just important that we think about the what. The what. What are the factors that have impacted the disparity that we see today? You don’t have to deny that there is a disparity there, but we could also look back when there was a closer gap, and we could think sociologically what was happening at that moment.
Then, we also have to acknowledge the historical narrative in which African-Americans have lived in within this country. This is the one group who was forbidden to marry. They were forbidden to marry. This is a group who was forbidden to read. They were forbidden to marry. This is the one group who had their children removed from their homes and sold.
When we get today in 2020, and people are like, “What’s up with black people,” I think to myself, ” What is up with the culture and the society and the people who would have inflicted such harm on people made in God’s image?” There is a story. I think love makes us pursue the story instead of pursuing the pathology.
Justin Holcomb: One of your responses to that question from Jim is that the social realities need to be attended to, that people are ignoring the social realities going into the fatherlessness question. We could make a list. You did. Historically, slavery housing, the war on drugs, generational wealth disparities, discrimination, there’s a whole host. That happens, my wife and I do some work on abuse. If you have an uptick in unemployment, you’re going to have an uptick in domestic abuse regardless of race, socioeconomic, gender, anything just uptick in unemployment.
The social reality has so much to do and our producer gave us some spectacular research on this. He highlighted something that I think is important for us to address that the normal data used by the CDC is 71.5% of black and Hispanic children are born to unmarried mothers. But what that ignores is that the rate at which black fathers live in the homes with their children is at almost 60%.
When you ask data can even be problematic and just the way that it’s phrased, the way that it’s presented and then interpreted which is exactly what you were saying. That was one helpful example or illustration, to your point, I think.
Another question we have is follow-up, is how can we process it when people say this phrase, this is a sin issue, not a skin issue, what are people trying to say and why is that unhelpful?
Christina Edmondson: That is an interesting response. I would say our impulse to generalize sin is usually rooted in our avoidance of repentance. One of the traditions that makes up my kind of Christian identity is one that is pretty heavy on kind of catechism. We repent of particular sins particularly if it’s kind of going to reform language there. I like that. I would say that my black church roots would say you got to name a thing. You got to say what it is. Someone you know to pick on spouses again, if a husband will pick a husband again, does something dishonorable and unloving to his wife, he’s like, “I’m sorry about the thing that I did.” The thing that you did, what’s that thing called?
The avoidance of putting language out there, oftentimes, is an avoidance of the repentance itself. When people say it’s a sin problem not a skin problem, in some ways, that kind of does this generalization brush because it demonstrates a bit of an avoidance. I would also say that they’re right in that it is a sin problem, but we might have a different understanding of the depths and the wickedness and the reach and the perversion of sin itself.
Our biases are often shown, and the sins that we think are particularly egregious that we never say that about. If I’m talking to someone who would never say that about something like abortion, I’m going to push back and say, “Why is it that when it comes to race, you would give a neutralizing term?” We would want to talk about the specifics of abortion, the desperation of women to think that the best option or to believe that the best option is to terminate a life that they have created by the spirit of God at work.
I want to talk about that in specificity. I want to talk about the loss of life in… Then, we’ll talk about the despair of that decision. I want to talk about the value on women and the value on children in society in specificity because it’s an expression of love. I actually believe that repentance requires specificity.
When we talk about issues like racism, if we just simply say, “Well, it’s sin,” it’ll be fine. Now, along with that, we have people who raise that point. Then, they also say things like, “Well, it’s not heaven yet.” That’s kind of like saying, ” Well, things are just going to suck right now.” To that, I would also tap them on the shoulder in love and say, “Well, let’s examine our biases. What are the sins that we believe that the power of the living God has the authority to call out and even begin making right, right now? What are the sins that we’re saying that God who is omniscient, sovereign, and powerful does not have the power to start making right, right now?”
Then, we begin to realize that we’re not just saying something about black people. We’re saying something about the God who created them. I think that should cause us to be a little fearful. There is nothing too hard for God. While we are not yet glorified, we still wrestle against sin on this side.
One of the things that the blood of Christ has provided for us is that it makes us repenters. It frees us from the presence of sin, the power of sin, the love of sin. Because of what Jesus has done, there is now power at work to say, “Oh, racism, you won’t have the final word.” God is greater. That beauty that is to come in fullness can break into right now to point to what is to come. When we grab ahold of that by faith, we are testifying to the power of God instead of conceding that either we like that sin and we don’t want to let it go or that our God is not powerful enough to do something about it. I’m not conceiving that.
Justin Holcomb: I love your example about abortion because they get really specific on that issue. One again that I just brought up is the issue of abuse. When you start talking about abuse, people get really particular about certain sins. What was really helpful is you’re intensifying your understanding of sin. I’m thinking of Genesis 6:5, the Lord saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth that every intention of his thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. That’s intense, internal, the scope of it, and it’s constant. What you talked about the way you talk about sin fits with the Genesis 6:5 understanding of sin not this kind of oops I made a mistake or some type of general thing. Wonderfully [crosstalk 00:28:37].
Christina Edmondson: Well, I’d also add this too, Justin, that sin has a game plan, and that’s to kill us. By the way, that’s all sin. That especially includes kind of our pet sins, our golden calves that we build gardens around and bob wires that no one can get to him.
When we talk about the kind of the wickedness of racism, the delusion of white supremacy, all of these pieces, that sin that objectifies and marginalizes black people, that same sin wants to kill white people too. Don’t think for a minute that sin that oppresses black people is thinking long and hard about let me treat white people right. Oh, no, no, no. White supremacy has no problem destroying white people to prop itself up.
We can see that throughout the historical narrative as well. I want to see you free in Jesus Christ. People, oftentimes, think that people who pursue conversations about race or racism are just trying to steal power or whatever. I’d like to see people free from the delusion of being a demigod.
There is no freedom in that. The enemy seeks to destroy my brothers and sisters in faith and destroy my neighbors. I think it’s important that we talk about it as life and death as spiritual life and spiritual death because it is.
Justin Holcomb: Well, the answer to the it’s not a sin issue, it’s a skin issue, and the point you just brought up, actually segues right to another question which I think is the most common response that people hear in conversations about racial justice and it’s that we simply need to just preach the gospel.
Now, we know your theological commitments. You don’t know ours, but we love talking about the centrality and the importance of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the person and work of Jesus because incarnation, death, perfect life, death, resurrection, ascension, resurrection and all that means because we are justified because of faith in Christ and Christ alone, all of that. We are 100% gospel freaks. That’s the shorthand for our theological commitment.
Just so you know where we are, just preach the gospel, and the issue will be solved. In what way is preaching the gospel, obviously, but we don’t want to take it for granted mission critical, but at the same time that’s not the only thing we say… I don’t want to say the gospel is not enough, but it’s not the only thing we say with the issue at hand?
Again, the question is don’t we just preach the gospel and that solves the issue? That’s the phrase that we hear.
Christina Edmondson: Yeah. Again, I would point them back to where they’re consistent and inconsistent with that. Generations ago, could you imagine a group of European immigrants who were denied religious freedom, and they decided to come to a new land? There were already people here, but they wanted the opportunity to exercise their religious freedom.
What if someone had said, “No, you need to stay where you are and just preach the gospel?” I want you to think about that. I think it’s curious to examine who we say that to, who we say just preach the gospel to, particularly, if we ourselves are connected to a culture or a tradition who said this feels oppressive and unfair, and I’m out of here. I want something different.
I think that we need to examine our biases in that way too. Additionally, I would say the gospel and I think this may be some of the cultural pieces. Of course, we confess with our mouth. Western tradition is pretty passionate and connected to the written word, the state the stated word.
I am a big fan of what we believe who believe is the brother of Jesus, one of the sons of Mary, the apostle James, faith without works is dead. Now, reform people get uncomfortable with that, but our salvation is worked out by the spirit through us that doesn’t mean that we work for our salvation, but it means it works out of us. It’s embodied. We are new creatures in Christ. We are new people because of Christ.
This gospel, when people say just preach the gospel, I will say amen. Let’s preach the gospel, but it’s not just rhetorical. It is embodied. Then, we have to reconcile with what we believe the actual gospel is, is the power of God unto salvation. That gospel has something to say about my sin, but also the sin done against me. It’s got something to say about all sin. It has cosmic implications.
The size of one’s gospel, I think that statement can be revealing to the size of one’s gospel. I don’t think you have to have what people would call kind of an over-realized eschatology or over-realized belief system that the gospel is going to create a utopia apart from salvation and Christ and dependency on Jesus alone.
But you can say that the gospel has deep implications for the way that we live our lives, that we are gospel witnesses, we are to be salt and light in the earth, we are ambassadors of Christ, we were bought with the price. This is our new designated identity. It’s not just a question that just preached the gospel. We live the gospel. We are gospel people. Those who have been forgiven much, we forgive. Those who’ve been given much grace, we give grace. We are new people in Jesus Christ.
That doesn’t mean we’re perfect people, but we should be marked by repentance. That is why it is so problematic that if we look at the research. Of course , we have to interpret it rightly. If we look at the research right now, one of the most painful realities is that we’re consistently seeing that some of the groups that hold some of the most racist beliefs about neighbors are people who most strongly identify as Christians.
That’s the problem. That’s a huge problem. It should not be so not because we’re perfect or not that white evangelical Christians should be living or pretending that they’re perfect, but they should be known as repenters, as repenters. That is a significant part of the gospel. That is the way in which we reach out and grab a hold of what Christ has done for us, is through the act of repentance.
Justin Holcomb: I keep on hearing echoes because of what you’re saying from the past few minutes of Martin Luther thesis one, is the Christian life is one of repentance. You’re calling Christians to repent, not unbelievers. Of course, we want unbelievers to repent, but repentance is a Christian thing. Because of the gospel, we’re invited to repent and on the faith and works, it was Luther who said, “Hey, God doesn’t need your works for salvation, but your neighbor does need your works.” How helpful of a summary from Luther.
Christina Edmondson: Yeah. But our neighbor is looking at our embodied confession, our lived confession. That’s actually what’s striking about Christians. There are people who can outdo us in many ways. They can out-intellectualize us. In many cases, this historical Christianity might have more money and resources than us, many, many things, but what people should not be able to out us in, is outing us in repentance. It should be like, “Here they come again. Confess it again. Here they go again. Confess it.” Not just confessing, but trying to make it right. Trying to make it right not because we can never live in perfection, but we make it right as an expression that points to the one who will one day come and make it all right.
Because we are his people, we need to bear the birthmarks of relationship to our God. God is making all things right, making all things new. We are about that business not because God needs our help, but we have been invited into a covenant relationship that God alone keeps. These are again the evidences, the fruits of this relationship, this transformation in Jesus Christ.
Jim Davis: Well, you brought up the inconsistency of abortion in the last question, but it applies here too because I think well-meaning brothers and sisters who would say this, “Just preach the gospel,” they are some of the greatest pro-life champions. They do a really good job in that. Just the consistency there, I think, is important to see. These phrases that we’re talking about, they really do fall into a category called what about-ism. What about this, but what about this, when we’re having these conversations.
As we continue the phrases, I want to give you a few what abouts. If you’re talking with somebody and somebody says, “Yeah, but what about black on black crime,” have you considered that as a factor? What’s the helpful way to wade into that?
Christina Edmondson: Again, now, we’re talking about a data question again. We know that women are most likely to be killed by people who are members of their family. We know that if a white person is to be hurt or murdered, it’s most likely to be by another white person. People who are in community with people are most likely to be hurt by the people that are in the community.
The hyper segregation of our culture actually adds to that, but more importantly than that, believe it or not, there’s something actually more important than that. It is the knee-jerk default reaction to debunk, devalue, and dismiss the pain that people are articulating by bringing up something else that is painful. I think that’s really the issue. People I’m like, “We can go set for set. I can bring you to social science. I can bring people who are way more skilled than me.” If you want to raise up to me the one or two people that aren’t respected in the field to give me black tropes, then that’s fine.
But that’s really not what we need to spend our time. We need to spend our time on the lack of empathy and why people want to pull so quickly into their backpack of ways in which not to sit with suffering that people are articulating. When I think about the Good Samaritan and he sees the man who has been beaten on the road, could have said, “Why were you here at this time? How crazy are you to be in that neighborhood?”
Now, another person of your background, is that the one that beat you? How did you get here? The religious people walked by. The members of the community walk by. They did nothing. The Good Samaritan didn’t ask questions because there are times to ask questions. There are times to serve and love.
That inclination to ask a question or to throw out a kind of a trump card of like, “What about black or black crime,” after people have watched a minute upon minute upon minute of a man with a knee on his neck die, your response is what about black or black crime? After people know that an aunt was sitting in her home with her nephew playing video games and lost her life because the police officer she thought was an intruder who was outside of her window, the response is black on black crime. The phrasing that we throw out so quickly reveals our hearts.
It reveals an inability to sit with the sadness, to sit with the suffering. You have to remember within the American kind of historical narrative. Flash back with me all the way to pre-emancipation proclamation. We’re talking about 1800s. The development in psychology world of a phrase called Drapetomania, this was a faith disorder that was created to explain why black people would run away from slaves. They must be out of their minds. This is American history. This is actually American psychological history to add that to you.
I’m bringing that crazy outlandish point up about Drapetomania that there had to be some explanation why would they run away because, clearly, they don’t want to be free like how we’re free. The response to that, the treatment for Drapetomania was to beat them harder, was to beat them more, to discipline them more because they’re inherently deviant and lazy and look at their women and look at their families.
These tropes these dehumanizing tropes and labels are so ingrained in our reality today that even if you’ve never heard that term, you have heard the tropes attached to it here in 2020. As I get what you’re raising at this point, people can go through the minutia of the social science.
What I’m actually at this point most concerned about is the lack of empathy, the lack of empathy to say… You don’t say to somebody whose mother just died of cancer, but did she smoke because… Had she been smoking?
Jim Davis: Well, I think you’ve just nailed the core of the question. You’ve nailed the core of the next question, but I want to make that connection clear to our listeners because we hear people say, “Well, what about the fact that only nine black people were killed by white police officers last year?” Why are so many people upset about such a small number? Let’s continue this empathy thread here.
Christina Edmondson: Yeah. What I would say, yeah. I actually did not know that there was someone who had put that information out, kind of a conservative kind of media think tank. I found that fascinating because I know researchers who study this particular topic studying media. They study police brutality, et cetera.
When I became aware that really only the last couple days, I was like, “Wow.” The intentionality to create a narrative that just said, “Well, there’s only nine people that died.” That’s just the democrats and the leftists and the media out there trying to get black people all riled up. Again, that’s another trope about the immaturity and the intellectual limitations of black people that they can be so easily [inaudible 00:43:08] by the left and the democrats.
All of that, once again, that’s all tropes. Clearly, black people can’t have their own experiences with the police. They can’t know this for themselves. I’m going to give them this information from this organization which clearly has a particular political bias. I’m going to give it to them and say, “You shouldn’t be so worried about systemic racism,” because look only eight black people die. Now, one, that’s not true. It’s not hard to refute the data on that, but two, not that eight lives aren’t incredibly important.
Two, this is what I would invite people to do since we can already start giving out homework right now. You all should know I’m a teacher, and I’ll give you homework quick. Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt is a social scientist at Stanford University. She has a book called bias.
One of the research studies that she highlights in this book is a research study that looks at police video data, so what’s been collected in the footage, not so much about what you’re seeing visually, but about what you’re hearing. It’s a qualitative study that’s looking at the words, the pacing, the tone that is used in interactions of police officers with different people. This includes certainly with white people and Latinos, with African-Americans, et cetera.
What we have found in that data is that there is a significant difference in the words, the language, the expectation and the tone of engagement with black people in comparison to other groups. Even when they control for the neighborhood, when they control for the type of car, when they control with the nature of the so-called offense or why they were stopped, we still see a disparity in the harshness of the language, the type of commands that are articulated to black people versus others. There’s a fundamental problem with the interaction between those groups.
Now, if I trace that back historically, I’m not completely blown away. Why? Because, not all of it, but there is particularly an arm, a historical arm in which part of our police force in the United States that exists today, the historical arm that it connects to a narrative of slave patrols. If you think about that being a part of the historical legacy, not the only legacy of policing, but one of the historical legacies of policing, what that lets you know is that, fundamentally, there at the core is an issue with the way that officers see their relationship with black people in society.
I am here to protect the rest of society against the ways in which black people are deviant and dysfunctional. That has been the marching order for generations. Now, with that being said, we even see these disparities among black police officers talking to black people. Why? Because we all experience the internalization of racism. We’re all drinking from the same water hoses. That is why you can have an African-American person who will say the same racist tropes that a white person will say because we’re all drinking from that same water fountain.
If we’re not mindful of what we’re drinking, we’ll still be able to internalize those biases. I gave you a lot to chew on. I recognize that could be my most provocative answer because people get real uncomfortable when you talk about policing in America. I actually have a fair amount of empathy because I trained at a VA, a veterans administration hospital for a period of time. I worked with a number of former soldiers and former soldiers who would also be police officers.
The combination of original tropes stereotypes economic disenfranchisement and untreated in a culture that tells police officers to deny their experiences of trauma, if you put that all together, it is a powerfully dangerous and painful dynamic. We can do so much better, so much better, I believe, for people of color first and foremost who experience mistreatment and marginalization.
We can do better for people who are committed to protecting and serving their community by making sure they have the mental health and economic resources and training that they need to do those jobs with integrity.
Justin Holcomb: Before I hand it back to Jim to round things out, the illustration you gave of a black police officer internalizing racism to me sounds like another illustration of your doctrine of sin that you gave us earlier which is that sin doesn’t care who it destroys. Satan and demons and sin personified, but hates God and wants God’s images destroyed regardless. The one thing that is colorblind is sin and Satan in the sense of his, I’m being goofy, but in the sense of wanting to destroy everyone and the internalizing of racism and the sin of racism as an example that it goes that far just stuck out to me again. Thank you.
Christina Edmondson: Yeah. You didn’t raise this point, Justin. I would say the other piece to kind of checking our intentions what we go to quickly in order to give ourselves the right to lack empathy and love for our neighbor who is suffering, another common thing that has happened which is actually re-traumatizing for many people of color is the lifting up of the voices of people who identify as people of color, who espouse racist or unsympathetic ideologies about black people.
Whenever I’m around a white Christian and they start lifting up names who have belief systems that are in my mind denigrating to black people and they’re like that person is so sound. They’re really thoughtful. What that reveals to me, oh, in some ways people who would recognize that they would be labeled as racist which is actually a bad thing in 2020 to be labeled as, but if I can use a person of color to say this point against a person of color, I can tokenize that voice, and I can continue to deny empathy. It’s incredibly traumatizing for people of color and disorienting to experience such.
It is revealing when we do that. We can always find somebody who will echo our opinions and our beliefs. We can always find a church that will wink at our particular sin that we want to hold on to, but it’s just deeply painful when that dynamic happens, if there’s a church or a community that’s particularly misogynistic and hateful towards women and then they find a woman to come forward in platform, that’s like, “Well, of course, women are intellectually and spiritually inferior.” That woman does the dirty work of misogyny.
That is particularly painful for other women to see and experience. We have to be careful I think it’s all of us because we when we’re not ready to give up our sin we do everything in our powers to justify it that’s all of us which means that we will find ourselves attracted to voices that make us feel good about the sin that we don’t want to let go of. I think in the race conversation, this can happen very, very easily.
Jim Davis: Well, we got to talk extensively with again Daryl Williamson about the black bell curve and how we interpret that especially if you’re new to the conversation, the spectrum, some people call it spectrum of voices, but you did give us a lot. You gave us a lot of gold. I want to say what I’m hearing from you is that let’s say the number of people, black people killed by white officers last year was one. Let’s say it was only George Floyd. It still connects to a story and a narrative and experiences. It symbolizes something that does stir up a lot of emotion.
As Christians we should care about that. We should want to understand and listen why does that mean so much to you before we start throwing stats at you.
Christina Edmondson: Absolutely. I think maybe potentially the response to the person who is being… Some people would say propaganda. I would even say disciple not obviously by the Lord God almighty, but discipled around what to say or what to point to politically or what voices in order to deny empathy that should be extended, is that we can ask them in sincerity the question of in sharing this with me, what are you hoping now that I will believe to be true about black people?
You want me to believe that it’s true that black people are just making this up and they’re just easily influenced because they’re infantile in some way? Why are you sharing the eldest information with me? Honestly, I think what it can start to reveal is what social science we would call is personal racism. We talk about structural and systemic racism, but there’s also personal racism.
I believe that the people who are sharing this information actually believe they want to do just the opposite. They don’t want to be seen, and they don’t want to be racist, but in doing that and saying, “I don’t believe what any of the black people are saying” they’re easily influenced by the left or whoever the people are this week, that their own experiences with mistreatment, ah, they’re just overreacting, what is it that you would have me to believe about these people made in the image of God?
Jim Davis: It’s really well said. I think you’ve answered most of the last question, but I still want to ask it because it’s important to me because we’re talking about feelings and empathy. Clearly, you are good at quantitative data. You’ve already made that clear and quantitative, we’re not saying it doesn’t matter. It does matter. It’s a part of it, but how does it make you feel when personally somebody comes to you with a what about-ism? What ways are quantitative approaches to this conversation unhelpful? For Christians who want to grow and want to learn in this area, what is a more helpful way to have this conversation?
Christina Edmondson: Yeah. I think there are so many ways to engage the conversation, but even before we engage it, we need to have a conversation with the Lord. Every once in a while, I meet people. They’re like, “I’m not a racist. I’m not a bias. I don’t have spies.” I’ll just say, “Have you asked Jesus?” Ask Jesus. If everyone know who you are and what you are, ask the lord. That’s a scary prayer. As somebody who does work on implicit bias and I teach about these topics and work with people, that means that I have to go to the Lord. I have to say like we get from the psalms search me oh Lord. Search me oh Lord. There’s a whole lot going on with me, things I don’t even know got going on with me.
But I would tell people to start there, is to say to the Lord, “Search me. Search me.” Then have the faith that a crushed reed he will not break, a dim which he will not blow out. While you might think that being a racist is the unpardonable sin, no. it is not. It is to God’s glory that God will not crush you in that, but God will break us in order to make us right, to make us repenters.
I tell people don’t fear the grace that comes through God’s gentle mercy and Holy Spirit at work revealing to us the very next level of our surgery, the very next level of surgery of our souls. I would start there. Empathy is incredibly important, but I think for Christians, we’ve got to recognize that we need to submit ourselves, surrender ourselves to the spirit at work revealing into us these biases that we have.
The other thing I would say is that we need to love people by learning about them. The frank truth is that the average white American in white Christian America in this country has very, very little understanding of the lived experiences of people of color in the United States besides stereotypes and tropes and oftentimes kind of whitewashed history that they’ve been given in their educational experience.
Simple learning about people can be really, really helpful. There are a number of resources to do such. It’s interesting. Every time I teach about the Chinese Exclusion Act in the United States, people are like, “What?” They’re like, “What is that?” I’m like, “Oh, you should learn about this Chinese exclusion.” You should learn about why it is that to this day that we treat Asian and Asian American people this country like they just got here last Tuesday. There’s always this kind of inevitable perpetual foreignness to their identity.
It is because they are the first group that the United States policy-wise denied interest into the United States and not just for a decade, not for two decades, for multiple decades. Most Americans know nothing about that. They know nothing about the fact that that japan had a very different experience in China and why that was.
They know nothing about the experience right after Emancipation Proclamation how African-Americans were denied 40 acres and a mule, but slave holders receive reparation. They know nothing about that. They know nothing about the rise of the clan after the 1860s, how the clan was created because black people were free from slavery in order to burn down communities and to create terroristic elements in our country that went all the way into the 1900s. I’m just throwing out a couple of examples.
The point is we just don’t know enough about our neighbors. We need to go about the business not asking them in order to stress them out and to re-traumatize them. There’s plenty of information. There is the google.com, you all. There’s plenty of information. One day, God willing, COVID will be over, and we can even go back to the libraries. Praise be to God. I really want to visit the library, you all, but we can read. We can read books. We can watch documentaries.
There are so many opportunities for us to grow in our understanding of each other. I have had to learn a fair amount of information and still not enough about European immigrant stories, about Dutch narrative, Irish narrative, Italian narrative. Why? Because I need to understand the assimilation process of European identity into the United States and how that impacts how people who now identify as whites see themselves within the system of race. What they gave up as it related to ethnicity to do such.
I have to know that narrative. I can’t claim to love my brother if I’m like, “I don’t really want to know anything about you.” No. I need to learn something about you. Anyway, that’s my long meandering statement, but my advocacy for everybody, let’s go learn together. Let’s learn.
Jim Davis: I will say we have two episodes with Ligon Duncan covering the history aspect and a number of the things that you’re naming. We’ll plug that. I’ll also plug if you’re listening in the Nashville area, you and your husband are planting a church. I’m sure that is going to be a blessing to your city. If you’re in the national area looking for a church, keep an eye out there. Christina, I just can’t thank you enough for all that you’re doing, your husband and thankful that you would give us your time today.
Christina Edmondson: My pleasure I hope it was helpful. Again, there are a number of wonderful voices some of which have already gone on to glory. They have been writing about this topic for hundreds of years. I extend to people just amazing names from history to pick up and to read. Then, you’ll get an opportunity to see the ways in which we’re cycling through the same rhetoric and the same issues. We’ve got to get off this simple merry-go-round.
Justin Holcomb: It was fun because, yeah, I love your phrase that you said early on. Jesus isn’t a tribal deity. I love it, but they’re using the tribal language. I can tell you we’re in the same theological tribe. The way you talk about repentance feels just so at home with me. The way you ended the past few minutes was the invitation to repent. Only people who have a deep awareness and richness of the gospel talk like that. Your search me oh lord like go ahead apply your law to me, apply your law because I have a gospel.
Also, I’m thinking of Romans 2:4. God’s kindness leads to repentance. The thread of you on sin and on repentance is just a marvelous application of the gospel of the kingdom to this issue to brothers and sisters in the church that have blind spots or just are unaware or they are aware, but they need to be called to repentance. That call to repentance was loud and clear.
I just kept on thinking because of God’s kindness, we are invited to repent. Thank you.
Christina Edmondson: Amen. Yeah. My pleasure is. I grab ahold of that for myself. My children will be like, “Yes, she needs to repent.”